I had the pleasure to interview R. K. Thorne, the author of Mage Slave, Book 1 of The Enslaved Chronicles.
Hi Rebecca. Tell us about yourself. What inspires you to write?
Hey AJ. Thanks for having me on your blog! I’d have to say all the different types of people in the world and their unique problems inspire me to write. I see a lot of people weighed down by the mundanity of everyday life, or stuck in tricky relationships, and I like opening up worlds for them that show them heroic moments, passionate love, and hard-won victories that I believe we all have in us. We just lose track of them in the day-to-day. I love giving people an awesome experience, especially when it helps them get through tough times.
Which novelists do you admire?
I am currently reading a ton of Lindsay Buroker and Grace Draven’s work. I’m an author-oriented reader, so I prefer to find a single author that I know I like most of the time and just devour everything they’ve ever written. Lindsay has a LOT of books, so… it’s going to be a while. I am NOT complaining.
Going further back, I have always been a huge fan of Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, Sharon Shinn, L.E. Modesitt Jr., and Melanie Rawn. I also read a lot of old school Heinlein and Asimov, and I adore them in their own way. And of course, Jane Austen.
Music is an important source of inspiration for you. What is your favorite musical style?
I find music helps inspire me to feel the emotions and moments of my characters. You know, some days your cat jumps on your head while you’re sleeping, the tea pot breaks, your computer makes you sit through a restart, and then you need to write… you may not be feeling like writing, certainly not moments of heroism or adventure or romance. Music helps me remember the emotions to the level my characters would be feeling them, and also think through different ways something could feel. So many love songs, and still more nuances among different songs.
What about role-playing games?
RPGs can be inspiring, and they can also sap inspiration. I find the world building the most inspiring, I think. Seeing and exploring vast worlds, similar to what I imagine but they are visual and interactive. I hope to work on one someday.
On the other hand, they can feed that part of your brain that wants to “get things done” without you really getting much of anything done. When you end up spending too much time playing, which invariably I do, then instead of being relaxed from playing you can be more stressed in the long run.
That said, I still love them. I still believe games are a force of good in the world. And I’m still loving playing through the Witchers 1-3, although I’m a little late to the party, and taking a small side diversion to Civilization VI.
Is Mage Slave your first published work?
Yes. I have been writing for a long time, but this was the first time I felt a work was ready for publication.
I have independently published a game in the past, so I do have some experience in killing yourself on long side projects and then trying to get the word out about them when you’re so exhausted you want to die.
Currently there are more than 25.000 epic fantasy e-books on Amazon. Mage Slave reached the top 20 in this category, an impressive feat for a first novel. How do you explain your success?
That’s nice of you to say! The book has definitely done better than I expected. People say often in entrepreneurship and creative endeavors that the worst temptation to quit can come from when you expected to do better than you did, but you fell short. You might have sold 1000 units, but if you expected 2000, it can feel like a failure, but if you’d expected 50, you’d be jumping for joy. So I manage my expectations carefully, and typically try to keep them non-existent or rock bottom.
You can never know how much of a title’s success is what you did versus luck combining fortuitously with the zeitgeist. But I’d say two things worked in my favor. First, I’ve been writing for a long time, over 25 years now, although not trying to publish. I struggled with perfectionism, finishing, and taking my writing seriously. To help with this, I enrolled in Joanna Penn’s Creative Freedom course, which helped me really reframe my writing as a serious business, a way I could make a living. The course helped me understand how to make sure I was treating my writing as seriously as it deserved. Through Joanna, I also read a great deal of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books, but especially The Pursuit of Perfection: And How It Harms Writers. This flipped a bit for me on the perfectionism side. I had always known perfection was unattainable, but this encouraged me to be more brave and just go for it. The War of Art helped there too.
I also was determined to make the highest quality product I possibly could. I have a degree in graphic design, but I don’t do anything like book covers, so I hired the best person I could find to do my covers, and the best editor I could find who respected and enhanced my voice and loved books like those I loved. I used Vellum to do the interior e-book, because it did the best job of anything I could find. So, in other words, I tried to just do my very best in making a quality product. And then I did a lot of reading on kboards about best practices and tried to use them. We invested seriously in Facebook ads, which were both wonderful for receiving reader comments and feedback and for getting the word out. We also tried out email newsletters and Amazon ads. Basically, I supported the book in the first 2-3 weeks with a fair amount of paid advertising, most of it carefully crafted and hopefully presented to fans of books like my book. I have few ways of tracking if some part of these helped tremendously or if some of them did nothing, but you try to do your best. Kindle Unlimited enrollment no doubt helped immensely as well, I make about as much in page reads as I do in sales.
Oh, and one last thing. Mage Slave is an epic fantasy, but it also has a very strong romantic element. I marketed the novel to epic fantasy fans, but also to fans of paranormal romance and fantasy romance. I think being cross genre can sometimes make it hard to market a book, but it can also increase the audience, especially when it’s something like love which has a universal appeal. Based on reviews, some people reading it are hardcore fantasy readers that don’t mind the love story (a common element in fantasy anyway) but there are definitely a sprinkling of reviews from readers where this seems to be one of the first epic fantasies / secondary world fantasies they’ve ever read.
Do you have an agent?
Nope! I don’t have an agent. Who knows, that may change in the future, but right now, I am happy without one. I did not query agents or publishers with my novel, I went straight to indie publish after extensive thought and research.
First-time novelists struggle to get reviews for their books. Mage Slave currently has more than 60 reviews on Amazon and more than 350 ratings on Goodreads. Was it difficult to get your first reviews?
Yes and no. The reviews came in very, very slowly. I don’t think it had any in the first week, even though I tried to involve my immediate network. It’s funny because people always say they assume half the reviews are the author’s friends and family. I don’t think any of mine are, maybe one or two.
After maybe the second week, I got one really thoughtful review, which is still the most helpful review, and they started to come in more after that. I think one thing that helped was that the book is in Kindle Unlimited. Some of the first reviews to show up were not shown as “Verified” which can mean they were KU borrows, and some reviews mentioned that. Other authors have commented, and I agree, that KU readers seem to review often and write nice things much of the time.
People often believe that writers need to use Internet and social media to promote their books. Personally I’ve seen no clear correlation between Internet popularity and strong book sales. What is your position on this issue?
I agree with you, I don’t think there’s much of a correlation. (AND correlation would not prove causation anyway! Geeky laughter! Ahem.) I think every author needs to have a website and mailing list. I think social media can be a way to get discovered if you love it and are very active on it.
But honestly I think it’s very overrated, and for most authors, it’s playing with fire. Social networks are such time sucks, and it’s so hard to have the discipline to manage that time well and pull yourself away, especially when you give yourself the excuse that it’s somehow vaguely helping your writing business. Is it really? Are you sure? Can you track how it’s helping you? What actions do you anticipate eventually happening, and how many hours of social media futzing lie between now and then? Will it have been worth the time? The other problem is, are you tweeting about things that would actually attract readers? That’s actually kind of hard for some people and takes a lot of intentional thinking. If I write fantasy novels, but tweet about crocheting, there may not be much overlap there. Am I writing about writing topics like character agency or point of view? Readers don’t care about my writing blog, you know? Writers do. That’s great if I want to write books for authors too, or if connecting with writers helps me stay the course. That’s cool. But I shouldn’t tell myself I’m selling books and acquiring fiction readers that way. This is what I mean by playing with fire. Make sure whatever you do, you spend more minutes writing than any of these things.
I try to have FB and TW accounts and be a little active, but I think most people would be much, much better off writing and getting more work out into the world.
Do you have any advice for aspiring fantasy novelists?
Be professional. Your writing is a business. You might not like that word, exactly, but you know what it means? It means it does have the potential to support you eventually. Take it seriously. Treat it with respect. Think long-term. And don’t stop reading!
Also, don’t fall into the perfection trap like I did. Finish things. Show them to readers of your genre. Ask them what they think, and then sit there with a blank face, don’t say ANYTHING for a couple of minutes, no matter what they say. Take notes. Only ask clarifying questions. They will be better judges than you are of if it’s good or not. You don’t want advice, you just want to know how they felt reading your work, and if they give you advice you don’t have to follow it. Also, just because something could be better, doesn’t mean it’s not good. There is no end to “better” – it’s a jail cell of your own making. But you hold the key.
And Nanowrimo this month is a perfect way to get over perfectionism and take the plunge – highly recommended and it’s during Nano that I started the first 30K of Mage Slave.